When "Never Mind" Is an Insult

Don't say these two words to someone with hearing loss.

Posted Oct 05, 2017

It happens sometimes. A friend or colleague is telling me a funny story or explaining an event that happened, and at some point, I'll ask, “What did you say?” I got the beginning, but somewhere along the way I missed something and needed clarification of the last point. The speaker pauses, as if to think about the question, and replies, “Never mind.” Usually, this is accompanied by a dismissive wave of the hand, shake of the head, or both. I hate that. Don’t you?

Source: Pexels

Never mind is a dismissal—an insult. It says that the listener is not important enough to the speaker to repeat what was said. This also applies to “forget it,” “it’s not important,” and “don’t worry about it.” If I hear that from somebody enough times, I don’t bother to interact with them any longer. It’s not worth my time. I essentially say “never mind” to them—just not out loud!

Maybe I'm being too sensitive. Sometimes the story is probably not important enough to repeat or there isn't time to go through it again. Even so, it still bothers me and it probably bothers others with hearing loss, too.

More concerning is that this type of dismissal may lead to social withdrawal for people if it happens enough. “Why bother to interact with others if I'm only to be scorned for not hearing everything perfectly,” some might think. It becomes easier not to try than to face dismissal and shame. Thus begins a downward spiral.

So, how can we better handle this type of situation and nip bad feelings in the bud? I have two suggestions for the speaker, and perhaps more importantly, one very effective tool for the listener.

For the Speaker:

  1. If someone doesn’t hear you, rephrase the last thing you said. It really doesn't take that long.
  2. If there isn’t time to do that now, say something like, “I want to finish telling you the story, but there isn’t time right now. Remind me after the meeting and I'll tell you.” This is much more respectful than “Never mind.”

For the Listener:

  1. If someone tells you “Never mind,” you should calmly reply, “Please, I really would like to hear what you have to say. Do you mind trying once more?” It's hard to say no to that. Plus, your assertiveness makes it clear that you will not take dismissal as an appropriate response.

Copyright: Shari Eberts. Reprinted with permission.